Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eating Your Way Through The Garden

How lovely to stroll through the garden and reach up to pick a juicy, ripe orange from the tree and devour it on the spot. We are so lucky to have the climate that allows us to grow these beauties so easily. Not to mention they are just lovely to look at!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Favorite Corner

There are places in my gardens that only a gardener could love. Kinda of like a "face that only a mother could love". This is one of them. To the undiscerning eye it may look like a mess of unorganized, unplanned hodgepodge of plants, but to me in is luscious. I love the abandoned freedom of the micanthus sinensis grass in the back of the bed. There are 'Tamara" roses arching into the picture, beautiful iris in bloom. A bit of lavender, abutilon, verbena bonariensis and brachyscome thrown in. There are sprawling pink carpet roses and even an Asian lily. All this lies in the dappled shade in the late afternoon. This garden moves in the breeze, is filled with bees and butterflies and smells heavenly. A perfect spot to sit in the late spring and admire a garden that inspires me!

Friday, May 28, 2010

You Gotta' Love Gardeners

On a recent tour of my garden there were lots of questions, comments and compliments about the flowers, garden design, and a host of other topics, but what was the one thing that brought on the most ohhh's and auhhh's?
The mulch! It had just been laid the following week in all the garden beds and on any open areas that are still bare. It is a lovely, uniform, dark brown product that I get by the truckload from a nearby green waste facility*. It adds a neat and tidy appearance to the garden, but it is so important as far as maintaining moisture and life in the soil that the outward appearance is just an added benefit!

*My mulch supplier is Dave McAllister Topsoil in San Juan Capistrano

Pretty Nook

This little planter was the source of all kinds of problems last year when the bottle palm trunk broke the sprinkler line and created a slow leak. Since I had a newly emptied bed (except for the palms) I indulged in some pretty pink flowers for this year. I'm not sure how these will all do long-term in the dappled light. The pelargonium and the daisies may need to move to a sunnier spot in the fall, but for now they are making me happy right where they are, next to the stairs in the gravel garden.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reverting Color

See those pretty blue campanula in the faux wood birdbath? Well, I swear they were white when I planted them a year ago. That is occasionally what happens to white plants that I put in the Moonlight Garden. The hybrid plants have a tendency to revert back to the parent color under certain conditions. I'm not sure if it is the soil, water ph or the sunlight, but I see it happen often with the white plants. Will I remove them to maintain the 'white' integrity of this palette? Probably not because they are awfully pretty. But I will have my eye on them!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spreading Around the Ambiance

This scene is on the small patio outside our family room in SJC. That is Spanish moss hanging from the candelabra, my touch of ambiance. Every morning when I open the door, some of the moss is spread out all over the table. It seems that the birds have discovered it and are thrilled about adding it to their nests. It is easy to see how it spreads so readily throughout the south where the humidity helps it thrive. Propagation of this bromeliad is incredibly easy. Just pull off a piece and hang it somewhere else. Or let the birds do it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


My peaceful Buddha sits in the very back of the serene gravel garden in a flower bed that I have replanted every year we have lived here. The white carpet roses do fine but I have a terrible time keeping any other groundcover thriving there. While adding some gravel to the back area, my son went ahead and covered the bare soil with some of the remaining gravel. I must admit it looks better than it did and there is a good chance I was not going to get around to adding more doomed plants anytime soon. The beauty of it is that I can always take up the gravel if I get ambitious in the future and want to add more plants, but for now, this will work fine for me. I concede!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Crisp Colors

If I had only a small garden it would undoubtedly be focused on soft, romantic colors and loose, flowing plants. However because I have a large garden with lots of different areas, I can indulge in many different moods and combinations, like this crisp light and dark one in the backyard of SJC. The 'Iceberg' roses were here when I moved in, but one of the first things I did was to skirt them with one of my favorite plants, 'Dark Knight' heliotrope. The heliotrope does well here with just the right amount of light and water and my guess is the organic fertilizer that the roses get trickle down to the heliotrope too. I must admit that I grow heliotrope in other parts of the garden and it doesn't look as good as this. Right place for the right plant I guess, and yes, the fragrance is heavenly!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gophers, Voles and Rabbits Beware

This is the newest addition to our family, 'Tilly'! Our older dog passed away and left a big hole in our family and our hearts. A good friend suggested we meet this three month old pup that had been abandoned at a humane society and rescued by the Orange County German Shepard Rescue. She had pneumonia and parasites when she first arrived there, but was nursed back to health by a generous foster parent. It didn't take us long to fall in love with her vivacious personality. She is extremely bright and spends hours bouncing around the gardens, adding a great deal of life, joy and laughter to our home.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Touch of Red

I don't grow many red roses in my garden. I've tried the classic hybrid tea red roses like Mr. Lincoln and Chrysler Imperial, and although their scent is heavenly, they are too high maintenance for my taste. But there is one red rose that I would not be without and that is L.D. Braithwaite.
I grow this rose in both my gardens and I love it. It has the classic David Austin form, a slight scent and is disease resistant in my area. The bushes that I grow give the garden bed a punch of soft red in such a graceful form that I look forward to their flowers every year.

Friday, May 21, 2010

When Ones-ies Work

I am constantly lamenting about how I have a habit of what I call polka-dot planting as opposed to planting "en masse". One here, one there, no continuity. But there is a time when it is appropriate. That would be as accent planting and this lovely iris, 'Orinoco Flow' is a good example. This area is filled with shrubs and small-flowering perennials and does not necessarily attract the eye. But who could not notice the bold colors of the iris that stand out dramatically and create a pleasing scenario. This time I got it right!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artful Companions

I wish I could take credit for this inspired combination planting, but all I did was put them in the ground, they eventually found each other and grew entwined in this perfect arrangement. The rose is 'French Perfume', with the purple clouds of statice (limonium) weaving through the rose blooms. The lovely gray background plant? One that I use often, licorice plant (helichrysum). This arrangement is as tall as I am, making them a lovely eye-level attraction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glowing Foliage

This is one of my favorite garden beds in SJC. Of course it has many of my favorite flowers and favorite colors, but I think one of the things that I really like is the bright shades of foliage. There are many hues of green here and many textures, but the lightest, brightest ones steal the show. The large pale green shrub at the top right is helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight'. The almost-yellow ground hugging plant to the bottom right is Creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'). The three spiky plants across the bottom of the photo is Golden Japanese Forest Grass (hakonechloa). The bright green spot at the top left is a chartreuse cultivator of spiderwort (tradescantia). Even on a gray day like we had yesterday, this garden glows!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


There are few plants with more interesting foliage than the Spotted Leopard Plant (Ligularia sachalinensis) shown here at the top of the picture. It goes well here in a partially shaded spot with the 'Stella de Oro' Daylily (Hemerocallis), which is a nice color echo. Whenever a novice gardener that is not familiar with the ligularia comes through the garden I have to tell them that this plant is very healthy, the spots are not from insect or disease damage. Bold and fun, this plant likes a cool, moist location, will wilt in the sun, but bounce right back as soon as the shade returns. Busy plant!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fedex Gardening

I had read somewhere about this variegated acanthus and I was enamored immediately! I am always on the lookout for variegated foliage that has a pure white variegation to it for my Moonlight Garden. Even better that it is a big-leaved shade plant, another type I am always on the lookout for. I ordered two from Heronswood Nursery in Pennsylvania and they arrived in the mail last week. Pretty small plants for a hefty price, but they are lovely! We are so lucky to have great nurseries in our area, both large and small, that I rarely feel the need to resort to mail order for live plants (bulbs and tubers are a different story), but I had not seen these around here. They are in the ground in a spot that is cool and damp. Let's see how they do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Master Gardener Tour

It was a busy day with our SJC garden open to the Orange County Master gardeners all day yesterday. It was a wonderful experience, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. There were lots of plants in bloom, but everybody's favorite seemed to be the pretty 'Beverly Sills' iris which was blooming in about a half dozen different spots.
I had some wonderful volunteer docents who were more than happy to do some deadheading while waiting for guests. Oddly enough my yard looked better by the end of the tour than the beginning, thanks to them! The whole garden seemed to be smiling by the end of the day with all the positive energy. It was a lovely day!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I think an interesting garden is about more than just visual charm. It is also about incorporating all the senses into an experience. Sight and smell are the obvious ones, but don't forget sound, taste and touch. Can you picture a garden without the sound of birds? Isn't it much more fun to walk through a garden and be able to pick a fresh strawberry or ripe apple and enjoy it on the spot? But don't forget the tactile side of a garden. A garden with great depth will blend hard, rough, smooth and soft textures together for a sensual experience for the visitor. There are few plants softer to the touch than lambs ears (stachys byzantina). It is also drought tolerant and has the most lovely blooms that the bees find irresistible. Works for me!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Name Tags

When I first put in my garden in Laguna I could remember the name of every plant. Scientific names, common names, cultivators and all, I knew them. As my garden got larger (and my brain got older) I started to map out my garden and list all the plants and where they were located. Then I started to put plant tags in the ground, made with labels from my Brother-P Touch and metal tags. I didn't want my garden to look like a botanical garden, but wanted to be able to recall a name when walking through with a friend so I made sure they were very subtle. Over the years as the garden went through many changes to add underground irrigation, lights and hardscaping most of the tags went missing. Somehow I still remember the names of every plant there with maybe the exception of a few iris. However I can't remember any of the names in my SJC garden. Maybe because I put the garden in so quickly compared to the many years it slowly evolved in Laguna. Or maybe just the process of labeling instills the name in my memory bank. Who knows? But I do know that I need to start a labeling project this summer. I like to address plants by their correct names. Like the pretty little rose above, that for the life of me I can't remember the name of and it only was planted a month ago!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dusting and Polishing

You know when company is coming how you tend to get around to doing all those little chores that you need to do around the house but have been putting off? The same goes for the garden, at least for me. This Saturday my SJC gardens will be open for the Master Gardner's Tour. This week has been busy getting to the last of the spring garden chores that were lingering on. New gravel is being laid in the vegetable garden and mulch is being spread on all the beds. Succulent gardens are getting some much needed weeding and there is major deadheading going on as many of the spring blooms are nodding out. Is there any perfect time for a garden tour? A few weeks ago I had the Laguna Beach Garden Club visit and many parts of the garden were at a spring peak, but the roses weren't open yet. This week the Spanish lavender that has been amazing for months is fading fast. Should I cut it back or leave the lingering blooms? One thing I always try to remember is that people won't know what it looked like last week so they won't know what they are missing. And I will try to not say those famous words that all gardeners utter at one time or another, "You should have seen the garden last week!"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quality Over Quantity

One of the hardest things I have to do in my gardens is to make up my mind what iris to order every year. There are so many beautiful ones to choose from that it is a mind boggling task to narrow it down to a few favorites, at least for me. Should I get a bunch of them or one or two really fabulous new introductions? It is the nature of the iris industry that there are a few new introductions that are brought out every year and the cost on them can run anywhere from $35 to $75 for a single rhizome. That is because they are so easy to propagate that the rare become common very quickly. The ones that I coveted many years ago that I could not afford are now in the $4 bins. Some years I go for collections which are put together by the growers and offered at a discount. That is fun because someone else is making the decision for you and it is like opening a present when they bloom. Some years I go on 'kicks' like one time that I ordered all the very, very dark purple ones. One time I ordered only rebloomers. The iris in the picture above was a new introduction I purchased a few years ago that had never bloomed. I had forgotten where it was planted and watched every new iris open in anticipation of my 'Paul Black'. What a thrill it was this morning to go out and find 'him' there to greet me!

Ed. Note: This iris has a wonderful scent too!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Front Door Garden

There was a little lawn area to the side of the front door when we moved into the SJC house three years ago that was one of the first areas I tore up and changed around. I added the flagstone paths because it was a natural shortcut to the back and made sense. The birdbath was already there and I added a few flowers and grasses for interest.

The next year I added the white birch tree and some flowering plants as well as the John Seeman sculpture.

This year it is starting to grow into it's potential as a pretty little garden that is full of roses, iris and perennials. It is a spot that I see a number of times a day, every day as I come and go so I put a little extra effort into making it a garden that makes me smile.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Self-Seeding Success

This entire bed in SJC is overflowing with self-seeding annuals and perennials. It is filled with scabiosa, hardy geranium, cerinthe, and gaura, all self seeders that multiply from seed every year. There is also iris, lamb's ear and some shrubs I have recently added at the back to give it a bit more structure. Looking at it is like eating cotton candy, a bit too sweet, but wonderful just the same!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

"Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,

Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,

Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,
But only one mother the wide world over."
George Cooper

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Bold and the Beautiful

Typically I like my roses romantic. Soft pastels that are big and overblown or simple and sweet. I love soft yellow roses and have some very romantic red ones. These all go well with my cedar shingled cottage in Laguna, or in a stand-alone garden away from any structures.

One of the things that gardeners need to consider to make a garden feel "right" is what goes with the style of house that the garden surrounds, even if that means veering away from our own preferences. That is why my SJC garden is filled with some romantic roses, but next to the bold colored house, there are bold colored roses, like this 'Disneyland' rose.

It holds up well close to the gold and green colors of the stucco and trim. Climbing the trellis is 'Royal Sunset' another rose that blends well with the gold. The rose in the foreground of the bottom picture is 'Sheila's Perfume'. A complimentary rose to 'Disneyland' chosen not for its color, but because everyone should have a namesake rose in their garden!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Secret Sauce

Abraham Darby

When I was putting in my first serious garden I used to spend a lot of time on the Garden Web Forums. That was where I got all my questions answered and I learned about organic gardening. There are eleven individual forums on roses alone! It is also where I learned about alfalfa tea. It is an amazing brew that makes plants grow like crazy into big, beautiful specimens that rival anything grown on synthetics. I had forgotten about this secret ingredient when I was putting in my gardens in SJC. One day I was brooding about how lousy my new rose bushes looked and wondering why my roses in the Laguna garden were so robust and beautiful when it dawned on me that I had never brewed alfalfa tea for my new garden. That was it! I have been brewing up the nasty concoction for the past few weeks and applying it to everything that grows. Now just to stand back and watch the magic happen! Alfalfa has a natural growth compound called triacontanol that benefits from the fermentation process. Alfalfa will work when just applied directly to the soil, but is enhanced when fermented for a week. It is not very pleasant to smell or look at, but I read that adding molasses helps negate the odor and it has always worked for me. So here it is:

12 cups alfalfa meal (get it at a feed store)
6 cups Epsom salts
1 bottle molasses
6 oz Superthrive (optional)

Mix in a 55 gallon trash barrel filled with water and let sit for a week, stirring daily. It will form a nasty green foam on top. This is good. Feed about a half a bucket to a rose bush or anything else that you want to grow and prosper.

Good luck!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seis de Mayo

In honor of tequila everywhere, allow me to share some photos of my beloved agaves! *And one dyckia! Thanks Danger Garden!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Easy Drama

Looking for a dramatic perennial for a shady area? Consider calla lilies (zantedeschia). There are few plants that are easier to grow. They require moderate water, rarely are bothered by bugs or disease and will bloom almost year round in our climate, although the foliage is beautiful without any blossoms at all. The leaves and flowers can be cut and used for dramatic, long lasting flower arrangements. The ones growing in the upper level of this picture are easily five and a half feet tall, most likely because it got some fertilizer that was meant for a nearby rose. The only maintenance required is deadheading. I hate to admit that we kind of take them for granted, they are that easy. But what a lovely, lovely plant!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Fine Combination

Iris 'Hollywood Nights' and Miscanthus Sinensis 'Adiago'

When I was a little girl my grandmother had a bed of iris outside the back door. They were all the same kind, a purplish-brown and yellow type. I vaguely remember the flowers, but I distinctly remember the foliage. It reminded me of a patch of four by four feet of sharp swords sticking out of the ground. It's amazing to me that these became one of my favorite flowers, however I certainly do not grow them in their own beds. They are one of the few plants that I purposely dot throughout the garden, one here and one there.

Iris 'Vizier' and Miscanthus Sinensis 'Variegates'

This year I have noticed that the ones that seem to be most pleasing in the garden are the ones that are planted near and among ornamental grasses. I think the soft, breezy nature of the grass softens the sharp iris foliage and serves as a neutral background for the stunning blooms. Iris are very stiff plants and grasses are very fluid. A fine combination in my opinion!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shades of Gold


Everyone has their own individual preferences when it comes to color. Mine tends to be more on the cooler color side like blues, greens and purples. But there is a shade somewhere between yellow and orange that I love to see in my garden. I guess it would be called a shade of gold.

'Stella de Oro' Daylily

I think it is easier to use in the garden than some of the other hues of yellow or orange that can be a bit too dominating.

'Valencia' Orange

A touch here and there is all I want to see, like a beam of sunshine.

'Graham Thomas' Rose

It has a way of warming up the cool colors I love just a bit. Adding a nice contrast or maybe a dash of spice.

'Savanna Sunset' Iris

If you look closely you will see that it is the color of many of the stamens, anthers and pollen on flowers of all colors, making it an easy color echo without being too obvious.


Think of it like a piece of gold jewelry that you might add to bring a bit of shimmer to an outfit. Maybe you should consider adding a little gold to your garden!